Inland water vessels to make a mark
Bulk importers are making their own vessels (lighterage) to carry their goods through inland water in a bid to reduce transportation costs and hassles.
Big business groups such as Abul Khair, Bashundhara, City and Meghna have made nearly 100 such vessels with a capacity of 2,000-3,000 tonnes each, in the last few years.
Making of each vessel costs Tk 8-10 crore depending on the materials used.
Meghna Group of Industries is expanding its fleet to meet its growing demand. The group plans to take its vessels’ tally to 70 from present 25 in the next three to five years.
“We have finished making four vessels and started to make another 12 at a time,” said Mostofa Kamal, chairman and managing director of the group, which imports and markets almost all major essential commodities from soybean oil to sugar, wheat and pulses.
The manufacturing costs of 12 ships would stand at around Tk 100 crore, according to Kamal. The vessels are being made at the group’s dockyard at Meghnaghat in Narayanganj.
Lighterage is used mainly to unload imported goods from the mother vessels that cannot enter a port’s dockside because of its shallow water level. Unavailability of dockside berths also prompted the use of lighterages.
The needs of those vessels are growing rapidly with the expanding economy. Bangladesh annually imports nearly $25 billion worth of goods such as food grain, cement clinker, sugar, salt, fertiliser, iron materials, chemicals, coal and edible oil.
Chittagong Port Authority statistics show the port has handled a total of 30.48 million tonnes of cargos in 2009, of which, 26.71 tonnes were imported and the rest were exported items.
Mahfuz Ahmed, managing director of Gulf Orient Seaways, which provides inland water transportation services, said about 90 percent of these imported cargos were transported through water routes.
“The trend is rising rapidly as big importers are coming into the vessels business more and more,” said Ahmed.
Golam Mohammad Sarwar, deputy traffic manager (operations) of Chittagong Port, was of the same opinion. He said transport of imported goods from the jetty through the river routes in 2010 rose nearly 15 percent from 2009.
Kamal said Meghna Group made its first vessel in 1995 for hassle-free transportation of imported goods. According to him, unavailability of vessels and ‘blackmailing’ by lighterage owners have forced them to make their own carriers.
“It had happened many times that we did not get vessels timely. Lighterage owners had tried to charge high,” said Kamal, supporting his big plan of making another 40 ships within a few years.
Each vessel takes 1-2 years to make. The manufacturers import plates and make the vessels with local technology and experts. Now some businessmen outsource drawings and designs from other countries such as Germany to ensure quality.
“The 12 vessels are being made with German (Lloyds) drawing and design. We have a plan to run these vessels to India, Myanmar and Thailand,” said Kamal.
He demanded a reduction in duties for imported plates to help the industry grow.